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Lindsay Gould on Government Wells in far North South Australia

The history of the establishment of government wells in far north South Australia appears to commence in about 1857 when George Woodroffe Goyder (1826-1898) as Assistant surveyor general, took charge of an exploration to report on country north of the then pastoral settlement areas.

He found Lake Eyre full of fresh water, and the surrounding country flourishing. This was vastly different to Eyre’s report in 1839 of the country being desert. Goyder’s report persuaded the surveyor-general Captain Arthur Freeling to see the country for himself which he did in September. No more rain had fallen, the lake had turned to mud and the country had been dried out by hot winds. Freeling accused Goyder of being misled by mirages and had mistaken the value of the country.

Goyder was too conscientious to ignore his blunder. In 1859 Goyder, at his own request, led an expedition of survey parties to triangulate the area between Lakes Torrens and Eyre and to sink wells.

Prior to the arrival of a railway in the Flinders Ranges, travel to the area had been by way of walking or using a push-bike. At a government inquiry in 1860, it was stated that transport was “often severely interrupted in consequence of want of feed and water, in particularly during summer”.

It was also suggested that government should sink wells in different places along the stock routes.” The drought of 1860 had been severe, and had nearly ruined many transport teams. Settlers had suffered severely from lack of supplies.Between 1875 and 1883, Goyder was chairman of the Forestry Board. One of his constant projects was the conservation of water. He strongly rejected the current view that “water would follow the plough”, and constructed wells and dams along the northern stock routes.

While none of the above specifically refers to the well at Farina, it is probable that being on a stock route, it was established either on Goyder’s initiative, or as a result of the Government inquiry of 1860.

Another consideration is that the waterhole at “The Gums” subsequently “Government Gums” was known to Cornish and Peachey at the time they surveyed the town area of Farina in 1876.

The waterhole was also taken into account during the survey of the route of the Great Northern Railway. The well if it existed prior to the survey may not have been suitable to support a town, although a well is referred to in Rob Olston’s book.